Hello, everyone. I’m back from vacation and am still a fan of baseball and writing about baseball. It’s too bad the Cardinals aren’t more fun to watch, because the schedule makers decided to give me three off nights while I was gone. Technically two off days, but I needed to wake up at 3:30 am on Tuesday morning and I was very grateful not to be tempted with a game on Monday night. I also missed the Lester start, being in an airport checking my phone when it all happened, and it was much, much funnier that way than watching it I presume.
Anyway, as of this writing, this is my first day back - my flight finally arrived to St. Louis at 11 pm - and I don’t have a good, concrete idea for my article today. I do have several smaller thoughts that don’t fit into a full article, so that’s the direction I’ll take.
Popular Crime is a good book
This is written by Bill James - yes that Bill James - so we’re going to count this as baseball-related right? Anyway, I read that on the flight and during my vacation and I enjoyed it a lot. Easy read, James seems to have read roughly 500 crime books and it shows, really seems to know his stuff as he goes through a lot of crime stories - mostly murder - that entered the national consciousness in the past 200 years. From Lizzie Borden (who he says definitely didn’t do it and he convinced me) to the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run (where he sketches out a completely plausible profile of the uncaught murderer that someone could probably whittle it down to not many people with enough resources) to Amanda Knox (who also didn’t do it)
But the best part? He gives you like 100 other crime books, more in fact. He’ll talk about a particular crime story, maybe about the Clutter Family, and then give you In Cold Blood. The other recommendations are a lot less obvious than that - I am not super familiar with crime books, and I even I know that one. Hell, I’ve seen the movie and the movie about the making of the book. But he covers the way the media covers it, which includes books written about it, and he’ll name a few, tell you what he thought - sometimes he’ll recommend, sometimes he’ll trash it - but you have a pretty good idea whether it’s worth your time based on what he says. And he gives 100 books at the end, at least in my edition, that are worth reading, and a number of stars after it, letting you know where to begin.
I cannot get this comp out of my head for Dylan Carlson
I’m really, really trying to push this comp out of my head. For starters, I don’t want it to be true. But also, Carlson is 22-years-old. He is probably going to be better than what he is now. I intellectually know that. He’s had an up-and-down season, as prospects do, and he’s still in line to end up as an average player at the end, a really, really encouraging sign for anyone’s rookie season, much less one as young as he. And yet...
He’s giving me serious Stephen Piscotty vibes. This, on the surface, is a weird comparison. Piscotty started off as a great hitter and then started gradually getting worse. Carlson is currently an above average hitter, and probably isn’t going to follow the same trajectory. Piscotty debuted at 24 and in hindsight, it seems obvious he was just average fairly quickly. .372 BABIP in his rookie season propping up his line a lot, then 1.9 fWAR in 649 PAs in his second season. One is right-handed, one is a switch hitter.
So why does he give me Piscotty vibes?
In a word, defense. I have this vague recollection that Piscotty was supposed to be a good defender, apparently he played 71 innings at CF in 2016, which I do not remember but strengthens my comparison - and it became apparent that he was not. He has settled into a -0.5 UZR/150 defender, he’s +1 over the entirety of his Statcast career in RF, he’s +0 DRS. So he’s an average defender. From 2015 to 2019, Piscotty was a 113 wRC+ hitter. Sounds impressive. With average defense in the corners, it is not. In fact, it led to 2 WAR per 600 PAs.
That is why I’m getting Piscotty vibes. I think Carlson will improve offensively, but I’m starting to get the feeling he’s going to need to wRC+ about 120 or higher to be a genuinely good player. Which he might do! Or he might settle into that place Piscotty did. He’s just giving me that vibe right now. I think I’m about as down on Carlson’s defense as anyone. The stats are divided. UZR/150 says +3.7 this year. OAA says -4 this year. DRS says +1. We clearly need more data on this. Eye test? He seems average at best to me personally. He’s not fast and he’s not going to get any faster. His routes are okay. I don’t know, his defense and speed have both underwhelmed me personally.
It’s just a huge swing in value if he’s not a +5 or whatever in RF, which I personally was preparing for when the Cardinals were trying to make him a CF, which he absolutely should never play. Again, I’ll repeat: I’m as down as his defense as anyone. I don’t even think he’s fine in CF in a pinch. He’s a RF, absolutely. His CF defense exposed his lack of speed, and I’m not sure I’d be quite so pessimistic about his defense if not for CF revealing his limitations.
Anyway, just sharing my thoughts. This is the kind of comparison I hope looks really stupid. And Piscotty’s recent two years certainly makes this a worse comp than I’m intending I think. I’m mostly referring to the good, not great hitter that he used to be, not the 2020-2021 version. The good news is though that I also happen to think this is more or less his floor (unless his defense really disappoints with more time.) He is extraordinarily likely to be at least an average player. So if you want to put a positive spin on this, there is that. I’m mostly just worried because I now feel his offensive standard just needs to be a lot higher than I originally thought.
Jon Lester’s start was not that bad... sort of
As I said above, I didn’t actually watch the game. I am removed from emotion, having not seen a single pitch Lester threw as a Cardinal. But if you remove home run “luck,” Lester had a 4.19 xFIP. If you grade him according to the contact he gave up, it was a 4.67 SIERA. I mean I’m pretty sure I’d take this? I don’t think half of the flyballs he allows will be homers. I don’t think he’ll continue having a 61 LOB%. Or a .438 BABIP. Yes, he does suck, but for example, his HR/FB% for the Nats was 15.2%, his LOB% was 70%, and his BABIP was .312. Lester sucks, but if he can roughly do what he did last start - without giving up all his hits and runs in the 1st inning - the Cardinals will get what they wanted out of him.
It’d be hilarious if Lester and Happ “worked”
So, part of the reason I don’t mind the two trades on trading deadline is because the upside is tremendous. Not the pitchers performances, no there’s no a whole lot of upside in Jon Lester or J.A. Happ. What I mean is if they somehow cobble together a couple months of halfway decent starts and gave the Cards could chances to win. Think Wade LeBlanc actually.
Imagine that storyline. Everyone would hate the Cardinals. The Cards devil magic, way overused in years past, would actually be appropriate in this scenario. And what’s the downside? Not giving innings to Johan Oviedo? It’s really not like he’s going to pitch better than the other two guys. Losing John Gant and Lane Thomas? Not like they planned to bring either back. Losing Evan Sisk? The 24-year-old reliever with 4.54 FIP is not going to be missed. It’s funny either way. I enjoyed that trading deadline from afar.
So I’ll root for a funny outcome that would be fun to watch. There is maximum devil magic potential here.
As you can see, most of what I had to say was about Carlson, but I don’t have much to compare him to Piscotty besides my gut telling me so. My gut has been drinking a lot of alcohol lately, so don’t trust its judgement.